Can you explain 4:43 please?

Can you explain 4:43 please?


Would you be able to help explain 4:43 please? 1: Why does the Qur’an talk about drinking as if it is okay as long as you aren’t drunk when praying 2: Why does the Qur’an advise you to apply dust on your face and your hands? Wouldn’t that make you dirty? It doesn’t seem to make sense. 3: ‘Having cohabited with a woman’ suggests sexual intercourse outside marriage as a norm? Or do I understand all this incorrectly from a few translations I have read?

Salaam alykum,

I would like to begin answering this question about The Qur’an with a bit of advice when approaching The Qur’an. Whenever you read something in The Qur’an, especially things that have seemingly very specific language, you must always check that specific phrase to the general rule that is found in The Qur’an.

Misconceptions of The Qur’an, while many times are based in translation errors, are usually found in taking out of context what is written, failing to apply the aforementioned suggestion and, also, in failing to understand who is being referred to and under what circumstances.

It is from this perspective that we should approach this ayah of The Qur’an. Thus, so that we are all on the same page, let us have the ayah in question before us:

“O you who have attained to faith. Do not attempt to pray while you are in a state of drunkenness, [but wait] you know what you are saying; nor yet [while you are] in a state requiring total ablution, until you have bathed – except if you are traveling [and are unable to do so]. But if you are ill, or are traveling, or have just satisfied a want of nature, or have cohabited with a woman, and can find no water – then take resort to pure dust, passing [therewith] lightly over your face and your hands. Behold, God is indeed an absolver of suns, much-forgiving.” [4:43] Muhammad Asad


“O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying or in a state of janabah, except those passing through [a place of prayer], until you have washed [your whole body]. And if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving.” [4:43] Sahih International

I would like to start by saying that I particularly do not like this translation by Sahih International, but, again, the issues are bigger than translation, with regards to your questions.

Regardless, let us answer the first question:

With all due respect to you, I do not see how The Qur’an is implicitly allowing alcohol by commanding the believers to not pray while intoxicated. This idea has emerged with fashionable people who believe they will be able to subject The Qur’an to the same style of criticism that was leveled at the Bible. This has been one of their futile attempts at illustrating a contradiction in The Qur’an, which is quite poor. Scholars have not helped, because they have responded to this argument incorrectly, but saying that alcohol was to be gradually phased out.

I am not sure how the idea that The Qur’an has approached the issue of alcohol in a gradual methodology has emerged in scholarly circles. This was true of other issues, such as slavery, however, even if this injunction was understood by the early Muslims to be of a mild restriction, it simply underlines that theymisunderstood, not that The Qur’an implicitly had allowed alcohol. Also, was there any evidence of The Prophet consuming alcohol prior to this injunction, or that he had found this restriction to affect his own actions? Furthermore, when The Qur’an approaches issues that require gradual phasing out, it does not generally approach this from issues that deal with individual human behavior, rather, like slavery, grander and more systemic issues that could not simply be removed by a simple injunction.

Regardless of this fact, the reality is that the injunction in question is (unfortunately) still applicable to Muslims today. Since human beings are prone to make mistakes, which is one of the defining characteristics of our humanity, this particular injunction illustrates a restriction should a Muslim make a mistake, and get drunk, and thus make themselves unfit for prayer. It is from this angle in which you should approach and understand this particular part of this ayah.

Other scholars have extended this idea of drunkenness (sukara) past alcoholic intoxication, since the root word of sukhara is sukr, which itself has a far broader meaning. Thus, many have argued that this particular injunction refers to one’s “consciousness” or “state-of-mind” rather than simple inebriation. I am inclined to agree with this perspective, but disagree when that state of “consciousness” is linked to one’s particular emotional state, for instance, as prayer is, many times, directed towards helping one make sense of these feelings.

Your second question is far more simple, and is found within the very text of the ayah you asked about.

The Qur’an is referring to your ritual ablutions, and while it is preferable for you to use water, and thus actually cleanse yourself both physically and ritually, The Qur’an’s approach to this issue illustrates both the practicality of The Qur’an and the fact that this act, ritual washing (wudhu), is more important as a method of preparation for prayer.

Using the Muhammad Asad translation, the following is said about dust: “and can find no water – then take resort to pure dust, passing [therewith] lightly over your face and your hands.” [4:43] Again, the major issue here is that it is the lack of water, which would necessarily mean that you do not even have enough water for drinking. Furthermore, if you only have enough water for drinking and nothing else, it would be advisable for you to use that water for your sustenance rather than for the process of ritual washing.

It is within the following Surah, Surah Al-Ma’idah, in which we get further proof of this statement:

“and can find no water – then take resort to pure dust, passing therewith lightly over your face and your hands. God does not want to impose any hardship on you, but wants to make you pure, and to bestow upon you the full measure of His blessings, so that you might have cause and to be grateful.” [5:6] Muhammad Asad

Thus, it becomes clear that the only reason why this would be acceptable would be to limit the suffering or destruction that ritual washing would cause to the individual Muslim, and as far as I see it, to the larger society. Thus, when Muslims use more water to make wudhu than they would drink in a month, are they not wasting water and are they not putting themselves, their communities, or perhaps others, in a state of hardship? However, this is a side issue.

The main issue is that, yes, it would “make you dirty,” but it is generally understood that if you are in a place where you are actually unable to find water, especially in our day and age, your relative “cleanliness” is of secondary issue, and prayer might be the best option for you.

The third question, is where translation can possibly become an issue.

As we saw in the Muhammad Asad translation, which I believe you are using, and compare it to Sahih International, or indeed other translations (like Yusuf Ali, for instance) the word changes to “contact.” Thus, unfortunately, the idea has become that simple contact with a woman (by virtue of shaking hands, or hugging your mother) has become something that breaks your state of wudhu. While it might not have been the intention of the translators mentioned, I would like to underline that the meaning of this particular phrase is directed towards sexual contact.

Regardless of this issue of misunderstanding, the phrase you mention is simply used as a sort of euphemism, and to be understood as a “nice way” to refer to sexual contact. The one issue that you mention, particularly that the language of this phrase would suggest that the Muslim man may have sexual relations with women as he pleases, is something that is rooted in other issues.

Scholars who believe that The Qur’an allows for a Muslim man to have sexual relations with their wives and concubines, would argue that this larger scope, denoted by the use of the word “woman,” shows that they (men) have this right. Again, when checking the rule of sexual rights to the larger rule, and especially when compared to slavery, and the links between concubinage and slavery, it becomes clear that even ifthe intent behind this phrase was to be wide, not only was it directed towards something that would end, but it raises another question:

Why would The Qur’an use a euphemism, when attempting to underline such an important and critical injunction as to the scope of a Muslim’s sexual partners? Also, if the term is indeed a euphemism (which it undoubtedly is), then how legalistic could we get with it? The reality is that, for all the intellectual capital we have used to understand the implications of this phrase, we find ourselves back at the original answer: it is a euphemism, and thus, the language can be distorted for ill purposes, should one’s heart incline them to do so, but then again, God (alone) knows our intentions and our motivations and we must deal with the consequences of our actions.

Just to be clear, it is simply a way to describe sexual contact properly, and this is in keeping with what makes The Qur’an miraculous: its command of Arabic poetry to the degree of divine perfection.

Insha Allah, I hope I have answered your questions, and if you or anyone else has questions on this, or another topic, please do not hesitate to ask me.

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